Electoral reform has been a hot topic in Canada for a while. The fire was stoked by the current sitting government, while they were on the campaign trail. So, for such an important issue, why did it die quietly on Wednesday night? To answer that, we first need to understand what electoral reform is, and why it is so important to Canadians.
Electoral reform is the process of reviewing and changing the electoral process. Historically this has been done by redrawing electoral boundaries, however since the 1990s, there has been a push for the elimination of the first past the post system. Electoral reform in all of its iterations is very important for Canada. Redrawing the electoral boundaries, for example, allows us to remain a relevant voice with our changing population.
The existing voting infrastructure, I would think we can all agree, could use some improvement. During the 2015 election campaign, that improvement seemed destined to happen. The current sitting government had made it a part of their campaign at that point to enact some form of electoral reform before the 2019 election. They went so far as to say that 2015 would be the last year that the first past the post system would be used. We now know this is false. Where did it go wrong?
In a letter sent to the Democratic Institutions Minister on February 1st of this year, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told her that electoral reform was no longer part of her mandate. The letter claimed that the support was not there for any changes to the voting system. The letter also went on to state that no referendum would be held on the matter either. This would seem to contradict the findings from the many town halls held, the survey results which were conducted by all sitting parties, and the special committee on the subject. This, understandably, had many people upset. But there was still hope. There are still organisations that are attempting to have the system changed.
Fair Vote Canada ran a survey during the 2015 election campaign which found that 40 Liberal MPs agreed with the organisation on electoral reform. This should have been good news, given that the opposition in the House of Commons had tabled a report, from the previously mentioned committee, outlining ways that the Liberals could save their election promise and implement a reform. Of those 40 elected MPs who had previously agreed with Fair Vote Canada, only two of them voted with the opposition to hold the Liberals accountable. Sean Casey and Nathaniel Erskine-Smith were the only two MPs to stand by their constituents.
So, now we know what electoral reform is, how it died, and the officially listed reason for why. Although this was considered a ‘free vote’ in the House of Commons, it must be mentioned that 159 Liberals voted against this. Remember that at least 40 elected Liberal MPs agreed with Fair Vote Canada in 2015 that change is needed, but 38 of them did not act when needed.